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Race for president remains a question

By David Royse The Associated Press
Thursday November 09, 2000



TALLAHASSEE — Florida officials began recounting nearly 6 million ballots Wednesday to determine the next president, while Democrats and some voters complained of irregularities in the election. 

The recount in all 67 counties was triggered by state law because Republican George W. Bush led Democrat Al Gore by less than one-half of 1 percent. State officials said they will count every ballot over again, and expected to be finished by the end of the day Thursday. 

Florida elections supervisors also waited for an undetermined number of overseas ballots, primarily from military personnel and their families. The state allows 10 days after the election for the ballots to come in. 

The state counted about 2,300 overseas ballots in the 1996 election — more than the margin separating Gore and Bush this time — so there is a remote possibility that those ballots alone could change the outcome. 

The scrutiny was intense because Florida, with its 25 electoral votes, will decide the winner of the presidential cliffhanger. In an added twist, the state’s governor, Jeb Bush, is the younger brother of the Republican nominee. 

“We thought it would be close. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine it would be this close,” Jeb Bush told reporters in the capital city. 

The latest Florida totals, including all absentee ballots received so far, showed Bush with 2,909,135 votes and Gore with 2,907,351 — a difference of 1,784 in a state with 8.75 million registered voters. 

With 28 of 67 Florida counties recounted Wednesday, Bush’s lead over Gore decreased by 663 votes. Gore had a net gain of 839 votes from Tuesday night’s count; Bush, a net gain of 176 votes. 

Both Bush and Gore campaigned hard in the state and regarded it as crucial. 

Some counties completed the count Wednesday and forwarded results to Tallahassee for certification by Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris and Roberts, a Republican appointee. Jeb Bush said he recused himself. 

Although both candidates typically pick up votes in a recount. Veterans of the process said it is unusual for one side to pick up enough votes to make a difference in the outcome. 

In each county, a county judge, the chairman of the county commission and the local elections supervisor, recounted the votes by feeding punch cards through tabulation machines three times. The makeup of the canvassing board is supposed to insulate the process from politics, state elections director Clay Roberts said. 

Two former secretaries of state — Warren Christopher for Gore and James A. Baker III for Bush — were heading monitoring teams sent to Florida on Wednesday. 

In Florida and elsewhere, Democrats grumbled about long lines at the polls, reports that ballots were late in arriving at polling places and other possible irregularities. 

“We’ve received literally thousands of telephone calls and inquiries and reports of irregularities like ballots appearing and disappearing, voter intimidation, and the totals of this election sort of mysteriously disappearing and growing overnight,” state Democratic Party chairman Bob Poe said. 

Jesse Jackson said he got calls on Election Day complaining that blacks had difficulty voting in Florida and other Southern states. Jackson said some voters were told there were no more ballots, or that polls were closed. 

“What we need is not just a recount by hand, but also a thorough investigation,” Jackson said. 

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said he has asked the Justice Department to investigate what he called numerous complaints of election irregularities affecting minority voting. He also wants the federal government to oversee the recount. 

“We are not suggesting foul play, but we are very much concerned that foul play can happen,” he said in a statement. 

Separately, Democratic officials and hundreds of voters complained about the way ballots in Palm Beach County were arranged. Voters punched holes in the middle of the ballot, while candidates were alternately listed to the left and then the right. 

“It was virtually impossible to know who you voted for,” said Mark Hirsch, a 30-year-old business executive who voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. 

Some Gore supporters said they feared they mistakenly voted for Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. Gore carried the county by more than 110,000 votes, but the 3,407 votes for Buchanan were by far the most of any Florida county, and almost 20 percent of his total vote in the state. 

Republicans said the ballot was approved by Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore, a Democrat. 

“The ballot was laid out within accordance with the statute,” Roberts said. “That’s a voting system that’s been in use for many years in many counties.” 

Jeb Bush said he has seen nothing that indicates fraud, and pledged a fair recount. 

“Voter fraud in our state is a felony, and guilty parties will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.